Scamming people to get vaccinated in Serbia

Perhaps it was inevitable. After the resounding success of the Serbian government’s vaccination and international communication campaign, the number of foreigners arriving in the country anxiously looking for a vaccine, possibly a Pfizer-BioNTech one, even willing to pay to be inoculated, has multiplied. And right on time, various scams began to surface.

While Prime Minister Ana Brnabic announced on Friday evening that vaccinations reserved for foreigners are suspended until further notice, there are Facebook pages that claim that, for 324 euro, you can get two overnight stays in a hotel, linguistic assistance in Italian and book vaccination with either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine (the latter will be available in Serbia in six months). We couldn’t pass up such an “opportunity” so an acquaintance of ours phoned the Turkish number and asked Mr Kemal to help him and his wife, who had come to Belgrade from Italy to get the long-awaited vaccine. Kemal promised that his Serbian friends would get what they came for. After a while, he called up a guy called Nikola, who promised the couple that they would be vaccinated by the end of the day at a specific local health checkpoint in Belgrade for “the modest” sum of 500 euro per person. Since every vaccine is tracked, a foreigner needs to show a passport and temporary certificate of residence (the so-called ‘beli karton’ or the white card), which is compulsorily issued by hotels or the police on the declaration of the owner of the property where the foreigner is staying, to be vaccinated. So, in the space of a few hours, we managed, for a fee of 1,000 euro, to obtain two vaccines without even registering on the eUprava website (compulsory for foreigners and non-residents in Belgrade).

We don’t know what these people would have said if we had asked for the Moderna vaccine. We can’t rule out a possibility that they would have guaranteed that they could book that one too, and perhaps Johnson&Johnson and, why not, even the not-yet-approved Curevac and Novavax.

Irony aside, we would like to urge readers not to fall for such scam because they are exposing themselves to the risk of losing a lot of money and probably not even getting the vaccine.

The success of the vaccination programme in Serbia is becoming almost an urban legend. Articles, commentaries and TV crews follow one another as they did only during the wars of the 1990s. A crew from the TV programme Le Iene spent this weekend in Belgrade to check the situation in the various vaccination points and to understand how the flawless Serbian vaccine machine works. This morning, the reporter from Mediaset’s infotainment programme couldn’t believe his eyes as he wandered around the vaccination point set up at the grounds of the Belgrade Fair, interviewing Serbs, but also Italians living in Serbia, who had just been vaccinated.

For now, foreigners who don’t have a residence in Serbia, including Italians, don’t have to Serbia in the hope to get vaccinated. Even more so, they should avoid social media pages and websites created by people who speculate about the global emergency which, in the case of Italy, has been aggravated by anxiogenic communication, a poor organisation of the process of acquisition and distribution of vaccines, cynicism and incompetence of the top brass of the national public health system which is finally being investigated by the judiciary.

By Biagio Carrano

This post is also available in: Italiano

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